The Minister for the Department for Infrastructure Nichola Mallon announced today (July 2) that face coverings will become mandatory on public transport from Friday, July 10 as part of the recovery process from Covid-19, to support efforts to reduce the risk of transmission.

This follows the Department of Health's reporting of one additional Covid-19 related death in Northern Ireland in the last 24 hour reporting period, bringing the total number of deaths to 552. Seven people tested positive for the virus out of 1,585 individuals tested. It brings the total number of positive tests to 5,768 out of 113,283 individuals tested in Northern Ireland.

From the end of next week, passengers travelling on most bus, train and ferry services in Northern Ireland will be required to wear a face covering. Face coverings will also be required in public transport stations.

There will be exemptions for those who are not able to wear a face covering for health and medical reasons, and for children under the age of 13. Outdoor areas of a ferry where social distancing can be maintained will be exempt from the requirements, along with school transport.

The Executive has agreed that the cross-departmental group that has been established to consider face coverings will engage with the tour coach and taxi industry to explore extending the requirement to these transport modes.

Making the announcement, Minister Mallon said: “As we move through the Executive’s recovery plan, more and more of the economy and society is opening up. We must remember however that Covid-19 is still with us. We need to remain vigilant and continue to play our part in controlling the virus to protect ourselves and others.

“As restrictions on our movement are eased, the safety of passengers and staff remains my priority. The evidence suggests that you can reduce the risk of spreading the virus by wearing a face covering. That is why, with the support of my Executive colleagues and the unions, I am announcing that face coverings will be mandatory on public transport, from Friday, July 10.

“The requirement will apply to passengers and also staff in public areas who are not protected by a screen. However, there will be exemptions for those who are not able to wear a face covering for specific health and medical reasons.”

A face covering is a covering of any type which covers a person’s nose and mouth; it does not have to be a surgical face mask.

While face coverings can offer protection to others, they are not a substitute for other protective measures and it is important that people continue to follow social distancing and wash or sanitise hands regularly.

Minister Mallon continued: “We are asking you to take personal responsibility and do the right thing to protect the health and well-being of others. The fact of the matter is you can spread the virus to other more vulnerable people without even knowing you have it. By wearing a face covering you are showing your support and consideration for other passengers and staff.

“It is important to be aware that wearing face coverings will not be suitable for all members of the public and we need to be sensitive to this and know that reasons for not wearing a face covering may not always be visible.

“Advice will be available on nidirect and social media channels. Translink staff will begin preparing commuters for the requirement to wear face coverings.

“It is also important that you do not get a false sense of security about the level of protection a face covering offers. They are not a substitute for social distancing or good hand hygiene. While I know many will find it challenging in the coming days and weeks to keep up compliance with the rules, I want to applaud the public for their leadership. The public have done the heavy lifting and kept us all safe. You have been the leaders in Northern Ireland fighting Covid-19 and I am asking you to keep it up and we will beat this together.

“By acting together and thinking of each other we can reduce the risk of transmission.”

Fermanagh and Omagh still remains the least affected area with 11 deaths, however the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA) reported there were 16 deaths in the district up until June 19. The number of positive cases has jumped from 86, reported on Wednesday, June 24 to 179. There have been two positive cases in the district in the last two weeks.

The latest statistics from the Department of Health are mainly from hospital fatalities where a person has tested positive.

NISRA data shows death toll reached 816 by June 19 and this includes care homes/ in the community/hospice and hospitals.